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CAUSE & EFFECT:Stepping Out of the Back Row

CAUSE & EFFECT:Stepping Out of the Back Row


I always enjoy watching a crowd stream into a room with unassigned seating.

There are normally two distinct groups;  the front row people who rush in and claim their spots in the first few rows and the back row folks who breeze into the seats best suited for a rapid escape out of the rear exits.

If you have ever been a presenter in such a room you know how tough it can be to coax back row people up to the front to fill in seats and create a more intimate space. Back rowers can be pretty adamant about their position. I should know as I am a long standing back row inhabitant.

Recently I met a fellow back rower who has changed his ways.

He is a billionaire businessman who could easily have any seat in most any room he liked. But he shared with me as an 12 year old immigrant from Cuba he spent much of his life quietly behind the scenes, never wanting to draw attention to himself.

He liked the back row vantage point, felt most comfortable there and accomplished a great deal from that vantage point.

But a year ago he made a move that caused him to step out of the back and up to the front.  So far up that he is now willing to take the stage.

His move was not a result of an award, a merger, political aspirations or business venture.

Instead it was witnessing a social injustice in his affluent neighborhood that he could not ignore.

As he tells it, he tried to overlook the incident but after a few days it bothered him so much he did some checking on the result of the encounter and it had not ended well.  He couldn’t let it go as it struck a personal note.  He lost sleep, wrestled around with his thoughts for a few days and then took action.

He established a nonprofit fund to attack the issue, hired an executive director and began reaching out to his personal and business contacts.  Billionaires tend to have a pretty robust contact list and everyone took his calls.

I met him at an inaugural summit he hosted on the topic in his hometown of Miami and had the pleasure of joining a small group of funders in his home to discuss partnership opportunities.

I am purposely not sharing the topic of his new found action, because that is not the point of this story.   Maybe his passion is shared by you but then again maybe it’s not.  It’s really more about a call to action.  An invitation or encouragement to do something.

He found the cause that moved him to take action.  I am betting that some of you have been thinking of a front row moment of your own somewhere in your heart and mind.

In my work at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation I have the privilege of walking alongside both front and back row people who want to create change in our region.  Each story is unique.  A businesswoman who started a scholarship because someone gave her a chance year’s ago; a grandfather who lost his granddaughter to cancer and is now working tirelessly to not only find a cure but to create the bridge to the cure, that precious time between diagnosis and the cure; a veteran who established a fund to assist a wide range of veteran’s issues and opportunities; a mom with a passion for children’s mental health; a woman who just recently became aware of the need for no-kill animal shelters in the region.  The moments are endless because so is the need.

Each day a need, injustice or opportunity is revealed in our community- they are just waiting for someone to step up and speak out.

In the early days of 2018 we are faced with nearly 365 days to make a difference.

If you are ready to move up to the front row or even up to the stage for community change, I would love to hear your story.
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $5.4 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $115 million, it has provided more than $71 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Currently, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are located off College Parkway in South Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit



Sarah Owen
Sarah Owen

Sarah Owen, President & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, leads a passionate and diverse team dedicated to driving regional change for the common good. The Foundation is committed to engaging the community in conversations and action that creates sustainable positive change and provides the funding to make those changes a reality. More